Kayak roll

Kayak roll

The Kayak Roll (often referred to as an "Eskimo roll") is the act of righting a capsized kayak by use of body motion and or a paddle. Typically this is done by lifting the torso towards the surface, flicking the hips to right the kayak halfway up and applying a righting force by means of the paddle while tucking close to the front or back deck.


Several styles of Kayak roll are in use including the C-to-C, Sweep, Screw, Extended Paddle (Pawlata) and hand roll. The roll styles in use vary both regionally and by type of kayak. In the USA, the C-to-C has traditionally been taught in the eastern half of the country while either the older screw or more modern sweep roll have been used in the western half.

Mastering the roll usually requires both instruction and practice. A reliable roll is key to improving both the fun and safety level of both whitewater and sea kayaking.

It is possible to perform a roll in certain kinds of canoes, provided the canoeist is strapped in and provided that the canoe is of a rollable hull profile and uses floatation bags and/or a spraydeck. Rolling a canoe is considerably harder than a kayak, especially in a tandem canoe where the upright motion requires precise coordination between the canoeists.

Failed rolls often allow the paddler enough time to grab a breath, so if they stay calm and don't panic, multiple attempts can be performed.

Types of roll

There are two general classifications of rolls - brace rolls and sweep rolls.Dutky, Paul, "The Bombproof Roll and Beyond", Menasha Ridge Press, 1993 ISBN 0897320859.] Brace rolls are those that primarily use bracing actions of the paddle, hand or other device to provide righting moments for the paddler. Sweep rolls primarily use sweeping motions with the paddle, hand or other device. An example of a brace roll is the C-to-C, as described below. The Screw roll is an example of a sweep roll.

Common rolls

There are many types of kayak rolls. Some are traditional rolls developed in the Arctic by Inuit, Aleut and Eskimo, while others are modern and have been developed by participants in the sport.

The following are a few commonly taught and practiced rolls.


The C-to-C is the most common type of roll taught to newcomers to the sport of Kayaking. It involves an initial torso rotation along the side of the kayak, so that the paddle moves across the surface of the water to a position at a 90 degree (right) angle to the kayak. The paddle is then pulled across and a hip snap is applied.

Pawlata Roll

The Pawlata is the other common type of roll taught to newcomers. First, the paddle is placed alongside the kayak then shuffled forwards until the kayaker grasps the blade of the paddle with one hand and the shaft just in front of it. The paddle shaft is then pushed so that the free end moves "downwards" out of the water, then the torso is rotated so that the paddle is at a 90 degree angle (perpendicular) to the kayak. The kayaker than pulls the paddle 180 degrees over the boat keeping it perpendicular. A hip snap can be performed to help rotate the kayak, although with the massive leverage it is not always required, hence why it is normally the first roll beginners learn.

The downsides to this roll are that the kayaker needs to shift their grip on the paddle which could lead to them losing it in turbulent waters and that the paddle is not immediately ready for use when righted. Because of the position change of the paddle, this is quite a slow roll which is a strong consideration in white water racing.

weep Roll / Screw Roll

The kayaker holds the paddle in the normal position and places it alongside the kayak. It is then pushed "down" out of the water and, like the Pawlata roll, swung out perpendicular to the kayak with one blade on top of the inverted kayak and the other out as far as possible. The paddle is less susceptible to interference from turbulence the further it is pushed out of the water. From this position, the outward end is brought "up" and across the boat. The kayaker can lean back to get a faster roll speed (hence the screw name from the arc described by the movement) and to reduce their moment at the expense of the leverage moment. A strong hip flick is usually required to complete the roll.

The downsides to this roll are that there is less of a lever created by the paddle which can be a problem especially in turbulent and aerated water. However, as the kayaker's hands are not moved, there is less chance of losing the paddle, and it is fast so a failed roll can normally be re-attempted without running out of breath.

Hand Roll

This is rolling without the aid of a paddle. It is commonly employed for Canoe polo, as well as a trick during rolling practice or when the paddler runs a river without a paddle either intentionally or through loss or breakage. For the hand roll, the strength and timing of the hip flick are especially important, because the hands provide much less torque than a paddle blade. A common practice technique is to "swim" sideways to the side of the pool or another boat to pull yourself up while in the kayak. This gets the kayaker used to the motions. A swimming float, large pop bottle, or a diving fin can be used to increase the lifting effect of the hands until the techniqe is mastered.

Canadian Roll / Canoe Roll

Similar to the C-to-C and screw rolls, this roll is adapted to combat the higher center of gravity of a C-1 or C-2 canoe and utilise the greater flexability and reach of the paddler or paddlers.Assuming a right handed paddler, the T-grip is held in the right hand and the shaft in the left. When upside down, twist round to the right and extend the paddle along the water surface as far as possible keeping it perpendicular to the boat. Pull the paddle "up" over your head. at some stage in the arc, approximately when the paddle is "vertical" it will need to be twisted around so that the other side of the blade can be pushed into the water. This is a good time for a nice strong hip flick. As the paddler starts to push down, they should lean forwards to reduce their moment. Like most rolls, the paddle should remain as close to perpendicular as possible through the roll.

When used in a C-2 canoe one paddler must switch hands on their paddle before both complete the roll simultaneously. Before going out on the water both paddlers should agree on what mechanisms they will use to co-ordinate the roll so they know which one is switching hands (normally the front paddler as they have more room and so they don't get a paddle to the back of the head) and how the timing will work, such as initiate roll 2 seconds after the aft paddler taps the forward paddler's shoulder.

Knee straps or ties are normally essential to allow the paddler to twist the canoe with their lower body. Similar techniques are used for open canoes.

Back Deck Roll

A back deck roll is most often performed when the boater flips while leaning back. If rolling with the right hand, the right forearm is brought to the forehead, with the paddle blade flat to the water. The left hand is kept at the left hip. Then, the hip snap is performed, and the paddler uses a forward sweeping motion to right the boat. This roll is advantageous because it is very quick, and the ending position is sitting forward with the power hand blade in the water.

Elements of a Sweep Roll

Initial or Setup Position

The initial position places the paddle alongside the kayak. The active blade will be angled so as to glide on the surface of the water.


The sweep of the paddle from the initial to final position provides the needed rotation.

Hip Flick or Hip Snap

The hip snap is a critical element in a roll. This action consists of rotating the lower body to one side so that the kayak begins to right itself. Different roll types require different kinds of hip action. Brace rolls tend to require a rapid hip snap while sweep rolls tend to require slower hip rotation. For many kayaks, once the kayak hull is rotated past its secondary stability point, it will tend to assist the paddler in righting themselves.

Ending or Final position

Each roll has a desired ending position. In a "layback" roll the torso will be lying on the back deck of the kayak at the end of the roll.

Keeping the Head Low

The paddler's head should remain in the water until the very end of the roll. Raising the head too early is a common reason for rolling failure.




* Hutchinson, Derek (1999). "Eskimo Rolling, 3rd Edition". Globe Pequot. ISBN 0762704519.

External links

* [http://www.qajaqusa.org/Movies/movies.html Qajaq USA] - Movie clips of Eskimo Rolls and other manoeuvres
* [http://www.kayakadvice.com/how-to-roll-a-kayak.html Eskimo Roll Tutorial] - How to train yourself to complete an eskimo roll.
* [http://greatlakeskayaker.ca/kayakRollingXref.htm Kayak Rolling Cross Reference] - Web page listing all rolls known to the web page's author
* [http://www.kayak.dk/kkkk/kajak/technique/14.HTM A Kayak Rolling Primer] - Includes some fine hand drawn animations. [http://web.singnet.com.sg/~songhao/Rolling/roll.htm (Same, but still)]
* [http://ootboot.com/guidebook/eskimo_roll/ Tips and techniques on a variety of rolls]

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